United Soda Gives Us A Contemporary Take On Pop
by Rudy Sanchez on 05/13/2020 | 5 Minute Read
Sodas have gotten a bad rap for quite some time, maligned for its high caloric content, consisting mostly of sugar and the inclusion of artificial flavorings, colorings, and preservatives. New York City once attempted to curb the consumption of soda, as have countries like Chile, which has even gone as far as regulating sugary foods similar to other products thought to harm public health, like cigarettes.
However, there is a path to redemption for the beverage, and it isn’t by becoming a pretender, i.e., flavored sparkling water, a drink that still can't reach the depths and complexity of a well-crafted pop. You have to reinvent yourself, and if you can do that with assistance from a few talented beverage veterans, you have a fighting chance.
Marisa Zupan (whose previous experience includes marketing and strategy stints at Coca-Cola, Nestle, Absolut, and Pepsi) along with Alex Center (a designer who spent a decade at Coca-Cola working on beverage brands like POWERADE, Vitamin Water, and Smart Water) saw the potential in giving soda a makeover, a modern update without all the high-fructose corn syrup and artificial flavorings that comes wrapped in contemporary branding with a broad appeal.
It’s that opportunity that led Zupan, CEO, to bring on Center from a design perspective, as she created United Sodas, a new line of pop with a flavor or two for everyone, a new line of pop with a flavor or two for everyone.
“Soda ended up where it is today because it partially lost sight of connecting with culture and people,” Marisa says. “Other products stepped in to capture new healthier opportunities, often making soda the enemy. Soda and its reputation remained unchanged, and the category continued a race-to-the-bottom trend in price, ingredients, and brand. That’s the insight that sparked our idea to reimagine what a soda brand can be today. Rather than make soda the enemy, the opportunity was in changing it from the inside out.”
Marisa enlisted Center Design to help launch this forward-thinking soda, and after two years of work, they crafted a line of beverages with a diverse range of flavors. Classics like Gingery Ale and Cherry Pop sit alongside more adventurous offerings like Strawberry Basil and Toasted Coconut. There are a total of 12 flavors in all, and four theme packs available—Toga Party, The Blues, New Classics, and the Finer Things Club.
Of course, envisioning a new soda is no easy task, and they wanted to create a brand driven by a desire to represent everyone. It had to speak to consumers authentically while also being inclusive without coming off as weak or clumsy.
"Outside of the visual identity, we spent a lot of time talking about the tone of voice for this brand," Alex explains. "Looking at the landscape of big soda, we knew there was an opportunity for a brand to speak to people in a human way. We want United Sodas to feel like it’s representative of all of US—pun intended—-and it needed to talk like that."
Every can in the range is a unique, saturated color linked to the natural flavor it represents while copy, expressed in a bold and confident type, is confined to the lower third of the front and a vertical line along the back of the label. There are no logos or excessive strokes of flair, just that minimalist, color-forward look that unifies the line. Alongside one another, the cans form a color spectrum that goes from Cherry Pop's red to Blackberry Jam's violet.
"Variety is a central pillar of our brand vision, so our flavors had to appeal to a wide range of tastes," Marisa says. "Not only that, but the visual expression also had to represent variety."
Color was also fundamental to flavor ideation. "To brainstorm flavors, I would arrange each of them by profile like floral, citrus, and berry, but also by color, so to ensure a balance from red to indigo," she adds. "I worked closely with Alex’s team on color representation and, of course, we collaborated heavily with our flavor creation team throughout."
Ultimately, they knew that the brand needed to bring delight to consumers, tapping into childhood memories of getting an ice-cold, fizzy treat. “We really wanted to lean into some classic soda nostalgia, so we tested a lot of flavors like Cherry, Lemon Lime, or Ginger," Alex says. They just needed to remind you of those tried-and-true flavors you loved as a kid, but through a grown-up, premium vehicle with better ingredients and 30 calories. “We wanted to do some unique and distinct flavors that were surprising, but at the end of the day, something that would bring you immense satisfaction. This is soda, and it needs to deliver that joy.”
Like a professional wrestler, pop goes from heel to people’s champion thanks to United Soda’s broad range of flavors, made from natural ingredients and sweeteners, and packaging that projects individuality and solidarity simultaneously.